How Does Intergenerational Trauma Affect the Soul?
Throughout history, traumatic events have wounded and immobilized people. Not just in life-threatening or physical ways, but also in psychological, emotional and indeed, spiritual ways. Whenever, and wherever, there have been violent crimes committed against humanity, people are often overcome by horrific physical, emotional and spiritual suffering. As a result, their assumptions about themselves, others and even God, have been shattered and their internal coping mechanisms have failed. Due to the severity of the trauma, painful memories, intense feelings, obscure perceptions, interrupted cognitive functions, and maladaptive behaviors, become encapsulated in time. For lack of a better word, people often describe themselves as being stuck, unable to move past traumatic events as they replay them continuously in their mind, body and soul. This feeling of being trapped in linear time can extend to days, months, years, decades and even centuries, as generations and generations often bear the scars of once upon a time. The same phenomenon occurs today. In fact, our understanding of the uniqueness of trauma has made leaps and bounds over the past several decades.
Yet, although there has been much research done in the area of how, when, where and why people hold their emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual trauma, precious little has been researched in the area of how trauma truly affects the soul. Perhaps this is due in part to the limitations of western theological and philosophical debates that struggle to define what the soul is? In fact, there appears to be a great deficit in our languages regarding how our minds and bodies express the soul, let alone, what to do with it now once we realize we are one? Most of the time, people are content to relegate the soul to something we give a nod to during religious services. For example, we live our lives, go to work or school, plan our careers, form relationships, procreate, avoid pain, and engage in pleasure, without much thought of the soul…until the day we are faced with our mortality. Then, perhaps we passively rely on the soul to do its job, and carry us into the next life. As a counseling educator, mental health and pastoral professional, I have seen firsthand how trauma encapsulates the soul of people. This insight was not something I was taught in seminary, let alone, in graduate school. In fact, if the soul ever came up in conversation, it was always done so in the third person, often referring to the soul as it. This description is simply not accurate. The soul is not something we have, but instead, the soul is who we are; the purest essence of ourselves that is connected with God. Everything else about ourselves is simply window-dressing. Still, in my work with people struggling to make sense of their losses, grief, trauma, after-death communication encounters and near-death experiences, many find it problematic to grasp the belief that souls often become bound to the place where traumatic events have resulted in horrific, physical deaths.
Just ask anyone who believes in haunted houses, battlefields, lighthouses, hotels, restaurants and boarding schools. These places often attract thrill seekers and ghost enthusiasts, seeking to confirm tales of sightings of disembodied spirits lurking about, but do nothing to transform the traumatic energy that has ensnared these souls so they can be released from that place and find peace with God. On the mental and physical level, traumatized people often describe themselves in the aftermath of tragedies and horrors, as feeling disconnected from not only themselves and others (depersonalization), but also feeling disconnected from their surroundings (derealization). In fact, if the intensity of the trauma persists and results in the death of the body, the more likely the soul will also experience a disconnection, and thus cry out to be reconnected to the Soul of the Universe, i.e., God. Ironically, this phenomenon has been the one aspect history has always underestimated about the voice of the human soul. For example, humanity has always attempted to silence people, societies and/or nations through orchestrated killings, murders, genocide, starvations, forced assimilations, humiliations, and degradations, often defining people as savages or primitive, backward, unworthy, unlovable, and therefore, disposable. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is not true for everyone. For the most part, many people go through traumatic experiences and over time, can process, find their soul’s voice, and heal from the past. Yet, not even the death of the body silences the soul. This is because, souls are energy in the purest sense, and therefore, have a distinct voice of their own. Moreover, if there is one prominent lesson that comes from the field of physics, besides gravity and inertia, it is that energy can never be destroyed; it can only be transformed, and therein lies the healing. Throughout my own experiences, research and interviews with people from various cultures, I have learned that traumatic energy is not only passed down intergenerationally, but also traumatic energy has the potential to encapsulate the souls of both individuals and entire communities. Ironically, this encapsulation often occurs because the initial traumatic energy is reinforced through the rigid social systems in which we live: educational, governmental, religious, health care, community norms, environmental, judicial, correctional, etc. In fact, trauma is not the only phenomenon that has been passed down through the generations. Negative assumptions, prejudices, feelings of contempt and corruption toward a group of people that have galvanized these systems for centuries, have also been passed down. Nevertheless, the time has come to not only discover our own soul’s voice, but also hear the cries of our ancestors; generations whose souls long to be healed and released to God. Indeed, they have much to teach us not just in terms of how they suffered and died, but rather how they lived and loved. Ellen R. White of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Canada believes that unless we have a deep communication with our ancestors, much deeper than merely acknowledging our shared DNA, we will forever struggle to get below the surface in all relationships (Archibald, 2008). Therefore, the question we must ask ourselves is: Can we enter our own soul in stillness and listen to their wisdom?